In fact, the standout runner was just content with doing his best, even if it meant being almost pushed off the line to start the race.
“At first, after the warm-ups, I started to recognize the field around me,” Nasser said. “I could see the level of competition. I was really confident about my chances and I could be in the mix.”
But there was somewhat of a false start, which forced officials to begin the race all over again. When the restart took place, Nasser found himself bunched in a group on the second line.
“When they called everyone to the line, there was some sort of confusion,” Nasser said. “I got pushed back a little and it was tough for me to get out.”
“For the first 50-to-75 meters, it was like a cattle charge,” said McNair Academic head coach Matt Hogan. “I was worried about him getting out. I thought he was going to use too much energy getting out.”
Nasser is accustomed to breaking away from the pack and setting the pace, but this time, it was next to impossible.
But Nasser was not deterred.
“I ran the first half mile strong,” Nasser said. “I was in a tight pack.”
After Nasser ran two miles, he was among the top 10. And a top 10 finish meant a free trip to the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego.
“When I saw he passed two people, I knew he was there,” Hogan said. “He came out of the woods and passed two people.”
Moving up put Nasser in ninth place.
“Once I passed the two competitors, I was perfect,” Nasser said. “I just wanted to hold my ground. I was measuring it all along. My friends were telling me that I was ninth. I just had to hold my ground.”
Nasser finished strong and crossed the finish line in 15:52, good for ninth place. And that meant he had qualified for the nationals, becoming the first runner in Hudson County history to compete in the national cross country championships.
“When you think about it, the Foot Locker has been around for about 40 years and we’ve never had a kid from Hudson County,” Hogan said. “When you think about it, he’s going to be one of only 40 kids to be there. All the other races, he went up against 175-to-200 runners in the race. This is going to be cool. He’s going up against 39 other runners.”
And Nasser and Hogan are headed to San Diego. Not a bad gig at all.
“Everything there is first class,” Hogan said. “They have a lot of stuff planned for him.”
Hogan never dreamed about having one of his runners compete in the nationals.
“I have some things I’d like to do as a coach, like having my team go to the Meet of Champions,” Hogan said. “But I never really thought about having an individual go to the nationals. I never thought we could have someone go. After putting what he did at the Meet of Champs [finishing third overall in the state], I started thinking, ‘Hey, he could go to San Diego.’ But it never really was on the radar.”
Nasser is trying to wrap his head around the fact he’s going to San Diego with his coach.
“I’ve been to Seattle and Denver before, but never San Diego,” Nasser said. “It’s just awesome. It’s the culmination of an incredible season. I know now that I’ve put my name with some of the greatest runners ever in Hudson County and I’m very honored and humbled by it.”
Nasser was asked if he knew anything about San Diego.
“I have heard a lot of good things,” Nasser said. “I heard about the weather and the scenery. I’m also getting a chance to be with some of my family from Texas who will be coming to support me.”
But did Nasser ever dream that he could be running amongst the nation’s best?
“Nah, never,” Nasser said. “My highest goal was to do well at the Meet of Champs. This is the cherry on the sundae. I’ve received so many e-mails and phone calls from people congratulating me. I never thought I’d qualify for the nationals. I’m going to give it my all. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Hogan has faith in his runner.
“I think Fahd will run well in San Diego,” Hogan said. “He’s been racing every week since August. I think he’s a little tired, so the week off will help him. I bet he runs smart in San Diego.”
But no one could have ever foreseen this kind of rapid improvement.
“It just really wasn’t on the radar,” Hogan said. “I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
One good thing has happened to Nasser. He has some major colleges interested in him.
“A lot of doors have opened up,” Nasser said. “I’m just taking it all in right now. It’s actually kind of relieving that these good schools are interested in me.”
When you reach legendary status, like Nasser has in Hudson County annals, the colleges tend to start calling.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.